BEST FOOT FORWARD
SWITZERLAND IS Europe’s most mountainous country, but you don’t have to climb to the very pointy part of those peaks to enjoy them – hiking through the valleys and around the flanks of the voluptuous hills is just as enjoyable an experience, coming complete with all the Toblerone-style vistas and often possible in shorts and Tshirt, but minus much of the huffing, puffing and panting.
The 17.6km Four-Lake Hike is a five-hour perambulation in the central Jochpass region, which is one of Switzerland’s best single-day adventures. The four-puddle route leads interlopers along a trail that wends around the wonderfully hued H2O of the magical Melch, blue-eyed Engstlen, turquoise Tannen and finally the translucent Trüebsee, where the shimmering face of an aquatic alpine mirror turns surrounding mountains – including towering Mt Titlis – upside down.
Start from the station of Melchsee-Frutt, pass the little chapel, mooch by Lake Melch and Tannen Lake, and then trek towards Tannalp. After you’ve dropped down to appreciate the azure allure of Engstlen Lake – a picturesque place for a picnic – the ascent to Jochpass beckons, taking you up and over the toes of the Titlis Massive. Your sweat and sweating are amply rewarded when you reach the sensational saddle, which straddles the divide between the Bernese Oberland and Central Switzerland, with eye-popping views over Trüebsee, the finishing point shimmering and winking at you to come hither.
For more one-day dalliances with Europe’s most coquettish countryside, check out the low-traffic trail from Pfingstegg to the hut at Bäregg, above the lower Grindelwald glacier, or luxuriate in the landscape on display during the meander from Mürren to the Lauterbrunnen valley floor. Alternatively, test your knees and lungs during the oneway hilly hike from sensational Schynige Platte to the summit station of the Grindelwald-First cableway (take the easy way down), or wander the national Swiss William Tell Path from Rütli to Bauen. Still got energy to burn? Go and gallop the Glacier Trail between Bettmerhorn and Fiescheralp, via Grosses Gufer and Märjelen lakes, or dare to leg wrestle the ogre on the iconic Eiger Trail from Grindelwald to Alpiglen station, contemplating the dark mountain’s infamous Mordwand (Murder Wall) as its notorious North Face frowns down from above.
You don't have to climb to the very pointy part of those peaks to enjoy them – hiking the valleys and flanks of the voluptuous hills is just as enjoyable…
For a longer escapade, consider the Hinteregasse, an eightday mission through the Bernese Oberland. This alpine epic is for those who love to properly immerse themselves in mountain scenery, overnighting in huts operated by the Swiss Alpine Club, high-elevation eyries offering stunning views across the valleys and peaks.
The route’s moniker won’t appeal to those with a babblefish implant, translating from German to English as ‘rear alley’, but don’t worry, we’re not giving you a bum steer and this is far from an arse-end amble. The name, which can also be interpreted as ‘backstreet’, refers to the fact that this trail is an umbilicus between Switzerland’s prealpine environment and the country’s cracking high-alpine peaks, which also gives you a clue to the elevation gain involved. But you’re here to get high, right? Well, there’s no better way to score that alpine buzz than by sucking hard on some increasingly oxygen-light alpine air.
An iteration of the route is also known to the Swiss as the Bärentrek (Bear Trek), although sadly (or gladly, depending on how you look at it) the real bears have long disappeared from this lofty part of Europe.
Starting from Meiringen, the route rambles up to Kleine Scheidegg (2061m), a dramatic and drop-dead gorgeous pass between the imposing Eiger and lovely Lauberhorn peaks. From there you stroll to Sefinenfurgge (2612m), crossing the col between the Hundshore and Bütlasse Hohtürli. Then head through Hahnenmoospass (1950m), which splits the peaks of Regenboldshorn and Albristhorn, to Trütlisberg Pass (2072m) and to finally aim for Chrine.
Unfortunately, wild camping doesn’t fly in highly regulated Switzerland – and there’s scarcely any level land to pitch your tent and lay your head anyway. However, you can splice together some awesome overnight foot-powered adventures by staying at inns, pensions and huts all through the Oberland and many other areas, such as the Engadin in the south east, where an Alpine valley traces the River Inn right across the country, from just west of glitzy St Moritz to Austria.
Multiday hikers can also consider taking on the sensational Haute Route, an absolute alpine classic that connects Mont Blanc in Chamonix, France, with the marvellous Matterhorn above Zermatt, in Switzerland. The route is non-technical and stays comfortably below 3000m, but it is a 12-day commitment (and well worth every minute).
You can splice together some awesome overnight foot-powered adventures by staying at inns, pensions and huts all through the Oberland
The small church on the shores of Lake Melch at Melchsee-Frutt, a holiday resort above the Melch Valley, Obwalden.
High altitude hiking is one of the most popular outdoor activities in Switzerland and it is easy to see why. Pic: Switzerland Tourism/Lorenz Andreas Fischer